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Silence and Bunny Trails

2 Nov

It’s 3:30 am and I find myself completely unable to sleep, largely due to the massive amount of hours I slept during the day today, having still been plagued by significant medicine side effects.

I wandered on to the bulletin board of my University and found the third or fourth discussion I’ve read in as many years about the nature and purpose of marriage. As usual, some young students and alumni were elevating biological procreation as the highest hall of human happiness and indeed, the best purpose of marriage. Infertility is an affliction or a punishment, and those who suffer from it are missing out on some part of God. This particular discussion wasn’t so bad, but others in the past have been (my favorite are the posts from unmarried freshmen who pontificate on the purpose and ideals of marriage!) and reading this one recollected the others to me and reproduced and reinforced my general reaction.

These discussions always irritate me. I usually find myself first irritated at the speaker of the “argument” but I am quickly moved to impatience with the general ignorance in Christendom about infertility. I hate that the church has been so silent on it.

But I think the problem goes even deeper than that. We have a general ignorance about adoption too. We talk in flowery words about the beauty of being adopted as Christ’s own, and we pick up our picket signs that say “Adoption not Abortion” but I think this is the extent of the average Christian’s exposure to adoption, save maybe a little more if they have a friend who was adopted. But then our language betrays how little we either understand or esteem adoption. “Did you adopt because you couldn’t have children of your own?” “Don’t worry-just adopt and you’ll get pregnant.” “This is the Jones’ adopted daughter Suzy.”

How much are we actually doing to understand this precious illustration God has given us here on earth? What do we do to help the young girls in need besides pointing them in the direction of a Crisis Pregnancy Center? Do we try to understand the living picture of Christ’s love in action in the dynamic of the families we know who have adopted? Do we take interest in legislation and movements that would support those families affected by it? Do we study what Christ meant when He gave us this example? Do we even understand what we’re saying when we claim we have been “Adopted as Sons?” I really don’t think so. Because I think if we did, if we really truly did, that would translate to action and adoption would look much different. I realize not every family is burdened or called to adoption issues and I’m completely ok with those folks, because I know God has called and equipped them elsewhere. But I think a lot more are called than are currently active, especially in Christendom and especially as a global organization.

So why is the church silent on these issues? The church is largely silent on things like birth defects, disabilities, persistent or terminal illness and bad things happening to “good people” too. I think it’s because it doesn’t fit in to our box of God. We can explain forgiveness. Most of us sin and are sinned against every day, so we have lots of practice in this arena. We can proudly embrace the sinner turned from a life of drugs, violence, promiscuity, or even apathy or unbelief in the name of God’s grace and forgiveness and changing power.

But what do we do with the folks who don’t fit in to our mold? How does that challenge our view of God? We seem to be unable to say “We don’t know why God did this or made you this or that way or didn’t fix this or that problem.” We want an explanation when the only answer just might be “Because He said so.” What do we do with that? How do we live that in action? I realize you can’t walk up to a person and say “Well, God made you that way, tough.” But there is a precious peace that comes with accepting God’s plan, even if it’s a deviation from “the norm” and realizing that in that, He is still good. Why does that deviation make us uncomfortable? Why are these people “exceptions” to our praxis rather than a part of our daily framework and ever expanding view of God? These folks were known, loved and named in their inmost being, too, and there are no flaws in God’s handiwork. What does it say of our view of God when we don’t know how to reconcile these “exceptions” with the box we’ve put Him in?

I wish the church would not be so afraid to speak on God’s “bunny trails.” The road less traveled is a beautiful one and I pray that you are invited on its precious journey one day. I challenge us all to evaluate those stereotypes and assumptions we take for granted. I challenge us to deliberately expose ourselves to a bunny trail and someone on it. I promise that expanding our view of humanity and God’s role in it will expand our view of Him and His vast richness and goodness. I believe that God created so many variations of the human story because one standard model of a healthy married couple with 2.4 children, a dog and a white picket fence couldn’t possibly display or contain all that He has to show us and all the ways He wishes for His glory and majesty to be known.

It is now almost 4:00 am so if my thoughts are scattered or incoherent, forgive me!


Preparing the Way

10 Oct

We have a transfer date! We’re not sharing when it is (I’ve been so proud of myself-I’ve actually been able to keep this secret!!!!), but it is sometime within the next six months.

I’m in Thursday morning Bible Study at church and one of the activities we had to do a couple of weeks ago was to compare the traits of the Holy Spirit with a random word we were assigned. My partner in the activity and I received the word “an organized person.” We had a few minutes to talk and ponder and I was reminded again that one of my favorite identities of God is that He is a God of order. Oh how I wish I manifested this particular characteristic with more consistency!

The transfer seems so close, yet still very far away. We’re still very decidedly in the double digits (there’s a hint–the transfer is somewhere between 10 and 99 days from now!) I have a little countdown clock on my computer that’s constantly ticking away, reminding me how much time (too much!) is left. I’ve started the medications to prepare and that’s given this all a new depth of reality. I’ve begun to want to organize, clean and prepare everything in sight. Is it possible for a woman to have pre-pregnancy nesting?

I’ve been working on purging old belongings, cleaning more regularly, establishing new systems, catching up on things long unattended to and just generally making sure things are in order. I’ve even started Christmas shopping and creating a plan to premake meals and freeze them so that if I’m too tired in pregnancy, I can just pull things out and reheat them without DH having to be responsible for feeding us. Part of it is just to keep my mind off of the wait but I’m also enjoying becoming more disciplined in my homemaking.

I’ve been worshiping a lot to the song “Worship in the Waiting” by FFH (gasp, yes, I, Jen, just admitted to liking a CCM song!) 😉 It makes me think a lot about intentionally waiting, and preparing. Waiting in life is inevitable. But how we spend the wait is not a foregone conclusion.

With the advent of Christmas I think about how Mary must have been anticipating the birth of Christ. How do you prepare your heart for something like that? I can hardly wrap my mind around it. How close her heart must have been to the heart of God. I wish for the same!

And I think about how we are to be preparing with our lamps always ready for our precious Jesus to return. In that sense, our entire life is a wait. Are we spending it in diligent preparation for His coming? Are the corners of our hearts redd up and turned out? Is the state of our minds company ready? Do we do the chores of this life with obedience and joy? Are we actively trying to prepare the way for Him? I know for me, I can’t say that the answers to any of those questions is yes all of the time, or even most of the time. So I’ve just been meditating a lot, searching my heart and mind and trying to learn from this waiting period. I think about how eager I am for these babies, and I think about how much more full God’s heart is for me and all of His lambs. That sounds so “me focused” and that’s not my intent. But it really is humbling to contemplate the love that the God of the Universe has for us and how patiently He waits for our hearts to surrender in abandon. I tend to avoid thinking about it–it’s easy to dismiss in the name of piety and selflessness. But in moderation, I do think it is an appropriate part of meditation. “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us…”

So while the impulsive, impatient part of me would probably trade waiting for just about anything else, I’ve appreciated the things that it has taught and is continuing to teach me. God is indeed generous and patient with me!
Hope you all are well!

Checking In

12 May

Hi Everyone,

I hope your days yesterday went as well as possible and that God’s strength was celebrated and displayed in our weakness. I pray that you all had “God sightings” yesterday.

As expected, I didn’t do so well in church. I didn’t even make it in to the sanctuary before the tears started coming. The greeters were happily greeting everyone with “Happy Mother’s Day” and then suddenly they’d get to me and say “Uh, well, hello.” They weren’t unfriendly and I appreciate that they didn’t say “Happy Mother’s Day” so I don’t fault anyone…it just started the day off in exactly the mood I was expecting. It didn’t help that I was alone–DH was picking my brother up at the airport.

The service began with a recitation of portions of Proverbs of 31 specifically dealing with motherhood and the tears kept coming. I sat through the worship songs because I couldn’t sing through my tears.

Then they read the scripture passage–it was the passage about Moses being placed in the basket. The pastor got a few words in and I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to remain quietly composed so I excused myself. I’m really disappointed I missed the message because the one piece of the story of Moses, his mother and Pharaoh’s daughter is adoption. But I just didn’t trust myself to not sob loudly. I’m really hoping that the mp3 goes up in the next couple of days so that I can listen to it now with full privacy to fall apart if I need to.

My mentor followed me out and we just sat and talked–time with her is always precious, however I can get it. After the service ended, our dear sweet Pastor came directly to me and hugged me and encouraged me, followed by a few other ladies who know our story. A good friend gave me a card to encourage me. So that time was really precious but I couldn’t help feeling foolish at being the center of attention on a day designed for an honor I don’t even qualify for. Busy-ness for C’s son’s wedding this week took the rest of the time and was a nice distraction.

As I was trying to explain things to the people who asked, the strongest emotion I was feeling was the emotion of missing our children. I wasn’t really prepared for that. Though I’ve never met them, it feels unnatural to be separated from them. I did have some feelings of grief and loss over the biological loss and the concept of “never,” but the fact that this was the first Mother’s Day with any real kind of hope, made it almost harder. In previous Mother’s Days, our children were always just a concept–something obscured, far on the horizon. So there was no urgency and Mother’s Day was really no different than any other day. Now they’ve taken on an identity in my heart.

The Proverb says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” That’s how yesterday felt. I was truly heart-sick. Never before have our children been “so close, and yet so far” as the song says. The inability to reach out and touch them, hold them, see them, was drowning. I think I was just unprepared for that. I was unprepared for DH being upset, too.

And at the end of the day, I’m not sure I would have had things differently. Yes, I would like to have heard PJ’s message and maybe not been such a blubbering mess, but my love for our children, wherever they are, grows every day so I would not have liked to not miss them, if that makes any sense.

We spent the rest of the afternoon having a nice lunch with MIL and then we were off to small group.

We gave this necklace to both of our moms, and I have one too:

It serves as our Ebenezer. I love that word. Not only does it come from one of my top 5 favorite songs (when they don’t change the words), but the word is rich in theology and significance.

Samuel took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer—”the stone of help”—for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!” —1 Samuel 7:12, NLT

Gary Parrett writes in a Christianity Today article that I frequently think about,

This single word ushers the worshiper into both the biblical episode and the greater narrative of God’s redemptive dealings with his people. It points us, also, to Robinson’s dramatic conversion three years before he penned the hymn, inviting us to reflect upon our own stories and to remember God’s faithful dealings with us. By removing the word from the hymn, we likely remove it from believers’ vocabularies and from our treasury of spiritual resources.

(Robinson is the writer of the hymn, “Come Thou Fount.”)

Our Snowflake necklace reminds me of God’s faithfulness and protection in giving these children genetic parents who are choosing life for them, of His faithfulness in making His will for us in this regard clearly marked and well-protected, for His generosity of provision of people and resources to support and equip us, for His restoration of our hearts that were not so distantly overwhelmingly broken and darkened with grief, and for His renewal of hope as we dream of the family He has for us!

Today is a new day and hope, though still deferred, is renewed with the dawn. I’m still weary from yesterday, but just knowing it’s behind us does wonders.

Our next homestudy visit is tomorrow. As of tomorrow night, we’re also half-way done with our classes. The check list is whittling down!

Genesis 2

28 Jan

Our Pastor was teaching from Genesis 2 yesterday. I’m a visual learner so I confess that sometimes my mind wanders during sermons. Yesterday thankfully it wandered while still staying on topic.

The verses read were

(18.) Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (19.) Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. (20.) The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. (21) So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. (22) The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. (23) The man said, “This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
(24)For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (25) And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

It occurred to me when I was thinking about these verses that Adam and Eve were perfect and complete in this state. They had no children yet and yet God declared that His creation of them was “good” (Genesis 1:31). Not only good, but very good. The only aspect of all of God’s creation to receive this added measure of God’s pleasure.

Children do not enter creation until after the Fall. Theologically it makes sense that it almost had to happen this way. Otherwise we would have had a third or more perfect person(s) who may or may not have sinned with Adam and Eve. And in Adam and Eve’s state of perfection, children were not necessary for labor or provision because there was no work, illness, or aging. They weren’t needed to further the human race because Adam and Eve were never to die.

God did bless procreation pre-Fall (Genesis 1:28). So, it stands to reason that children were a part of the Perfect Plan, though He also had foreknowledge of the Fall so He also knew that children would become necessary once death entered the world.

All that to say that this is not a strong theological argument and I don’t intend it as such. There are deep implications in both directions when interpreting this passage as a mandate or eternal value judgment on children or no children. I don’t think the passage was intended to be any of those things. But at the end of the day, it is undeniable that for whatever reason, children did not enter the world until after the fall, and they became part of both our condemnation and our redemption. (Did not the Lord Christ Himself enter this world as a baby?)

No one can say how a pre-fall creation would have made that unit “More Good,” and it is undeniable that children are a blessing. However, it cannot be ignored and it encourages me greatly that God, in His infinite knowledge of all that was and would come to be, declared the two-person family to be “very good.”


23 Jan

Forgive me as I blubber my way through this. I have no idea what the end result of this post but I feel the intense need to start writing down everything going through my head and heart, so here I go…

I do want to update but there’s no good place to put it so I’ll start with it and then get in to everything else. Thank you for praying for my illness. I am still sick but I no longer have the fever or the stomach issues and aside from some congestion and fatigue, I’m significantly better. I think a few more days of rest and fluids will see me back to my old self again and in the mean time, things are very bearable.

Back to the thoughts at hand.

Last night I was stewing and I came upon my scrapbook stuff. I’ve created several scrapbooks over the years, enjoying the creative process and the art of creating but relishing all the more dreams about all the stories I’d tell our children and grandchildren about us and their grandparents and their great grandparents. Last night I was feeling low and in a impulsive moment, decided that the scrapbooks didn’t matter and no one would ever care about them because I’d never have anyone to pass them on to. Of the losses of infertility, loss of a legacy was one I hadn’t really struggled with or considered before now. Fortunately I did not act on this and they still sit, collecting dust on the bottom shelf of my bookshelf.

Then today I sat and thought of our soon-to-be-born Godson, I cried. I was scouring the internet for patterns and how to videos for knitting or crocheting a baby blanket for him–something I always wanted to do for my own first born. But as I thought about it, I couldn’t help but pour my own heart full of the thoughts I wanted to pour in to my own baby’s blanket. The love and tears and dreams. I wanted to tell him about all the love in my heart for the child that may never be. I wanted to tell him how much I can’t wait to be his honorary auntie. I wanted to tell him that in the absence of my own little heart to love, my heart is full for him and I can’t wait to see his little face. I wanted to tell him how much I love his momma and daddy and how lucky he is to have them as his parents. I want to tell him that I can’t wait to want his dreams for him and though I can wait an eternity for his heart to break, I want to be there for that too. I want to commiserate with his momma when she’s exhausted and cheer with her when he says his first word or gets his first “A” in school. I want to tell him how sorry I am that we may never give him the playmate we 4 (us and his parents) always always wanted for him. (Who am I kidding-we wanted to give him a wife and seal this deal for good 😉 ). That darned baby blanket does not even exist yet and already I’ve smothered my face in to it and bathed in my tears of both joy and sorrow.

Those tears were good. I felt like I went through a good mourning exercise as I processed my thoughts about the soft blue and white blanket that is so much prettier in my dreams that it will ever be in person, provided I can even muster the strength and skill to create it. I had in my head the image of holding that soft fabric in my hands and gently pressing my face into it to smell it and then sobbing quietly. And slowly, that image of that blanket was replaced with the hem of the cloak of Jesus. And I pressed in my face even deeper and breathed deeply of the sweet fragrance of Christ and thanked Him for his healing power in my heart.

I’ve spent some time in the last few days watching a Beth Moore DVD loaned to me by my sister in law. Anyone who knows me knows that I am *not* a Beth Moore fan. But the subject matter interested me so I asked her if I could borrow it and she mailed it to me. I was thinking today about how much I was pleasantly surprised by the study and even contemplating things I wanted to come here and share.

No sooner was my heart delighting in all those workings of God in the last couple days then my heart was under siege again. Out of nowhere I was thinking of those darn scrapbooks again and the Enemy taunted me with thoughts “You will never leave a legacy. Stop wasting your time. You could die tomorrow and never be missed. Who are you kidding?”

And I confess, I was weak to those thoughts and their lies and quickly I was feeling sorry for myself and for my DH. But God, ever faithful and ever gentle, was quick to rescue me…again. Does anyone ever feel like that’s the story of their life? Don’t get me wrong–I never want to be in a place where I feel I don’t need God, but I do wish I didn’t fail Him quite so often.

Anyway, He brought to my heart the song “Legacy” by Nichole Nordeman. And then he brought the J family to my heart. They’re a family from the church in which I grew up. I’m about equidistant between the ages of the parents and the kids in the family. S and R (the parents) mentored and loved me throughout my youth and even still in to my adulthood and I poured in to their kids. I love this family with my whole heart and they have a role in my life unlike anyone else. I can’t wait to see them when I go home for visits and my heart swells with pride to see the remarkable young adults the kids have grown to be. How privileged I have been to share communion with this family! It occurred to me that I don’t share a shred of DNA commonality with these people and yet S and R have left a forever legacy on my heart, and hopefully I’ve at least left a little one with their kids. They’ve set the example of love and faithfulness for me, and I realized how much I would have been cheated if I had been denied relationship with them because we’re not blood related. How beautiful and rich is it that the family of God is one of adoption and not of biology! I’ve often pondered that on a cerebral level but tonight it was stirred fresh in my heart.

Tonight I’m tired. Open heart surgery is exhausting! But, I feel like a page has been turned and I’m filled with wonder and a little bit of anxiety and a touch of fear when I consider what this new chapter will look like. I think it’s still appropriate to grieve and to acknowledge the losses in this process and to take a moment when the events of life knock the wind out of me. But I hope to begin tomorrow with a fresh perspective. I want to look for the opportunities God does have for us, instead of spending so much time grieving for the ones He has, in His vast plan, chosen to deny. I can’t really remember the last time, if ever, I thanked Him for any part of this journey. I’ve thanked Him for the relationships I’ve developed such as the deepened relationship with my Sister in Law and with C from church, but I’ve always placed the infertility itself in its own mental trashcan, awaiting pickup any day. So, I confess this sin of selfishness and ingratitude, and those days when I think I know better. I’m thankful for His patience with me and for His precision in exacting His work in my heart. Slowly but surely, the garbage is being cleaned out, but it’s been found in the filing cabinets of perceptions and dreams and entitlements and ideas and attitudes I’ve held on to for far too long and not in the pile of circumstances I’d mentally discarded as worthless.

I don’t know what this new day will look like but I pray that my heart is filled with gratitude and patience as He reveals it to me.

I want to leave you with this song. I pray it encourages you the way it did me.

Not shortchanged?

29 Dec

I’ve mentioned my friend C here a few times before. She is a dear friend and mentor from church who lost her wonderful, godly husband just over a year ago.

Shortly after her husband’s death, we were having a baby dedication in church. I’m usually actually ok through those because in our church, they’re short and sweet. This particular day it felt like we were dedicating 200 children (impossible because we don’t even have 200 people in our church!) and I couldn’t handle it. I ran out of the church with tears in my eyes and broke down outside. C, who had led our women’s Bible Study and had mentored me some before her husband’s illness and thus knew some of what we were going through from what I had shared, ran out after me and threw her arms around me and said “I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to want something so bad and not get it.” We just wept and wept together. What she said was simple, but it has stayed with me as the single most precious thing anyone has done for or said to me specifically regarding infertility. I was humbled that this woman I loved and respected so much would reach out of her own rightful grief and sorrow to comfort me. She legitimized my pain by referencing a loss that the world treats as much more “grievable.”

I reflect on that moment a lot. It was so simple, yet so meaningful to me. I can’t even adequately describe why it was meaningful and I’m sure someone reading this account could easily go “So? Big deal?” But it remains significant just the same.

I was thinking about that moment the weekend after we received our latest diagnoses and I happened to run in to C at church in such a way that I could actually visit with her privately (she’s a popular lady and always has half a dozen folks wanting to chat with her). I shared with her how much I’d been reflecting on that day and how comforting it had been to me. I also told her of our new developments and again she hugged and wept and prayed with me. She asked if we could go to coffee. My heart soared. I’ve missed C so much but in her own grief I didn’t really feel comfortable in asking her for anything.

We met for coffee on the anniversary of my grandma’s death, which I shared here was a tough day for me. I think I talked her ear off for almost 4 hours and she listened, encouraged, admonished, advised, and walked with me every moment. We did talk about how she is doing too, (though I admit I hogged the air time). One thing she shared was that she has come to realize that because Scripture tells us that our number of days on this earth is already known and predetermined by God, God did not short change P one single breath. I listened to that and filed it away in my mental drawer of “insightful things when contemplating death” but it didn’t really resonate with me, which is ok, because it wasn’t designed to–C was sharing her own heart about her own journey and I’m privileged to have been admitted entry.

However, this week I was mulling over our conversation and I considered it in light of Jeremiah 29:11, which says

`For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, `plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.

Lots of people have recited that to me, especially in recent months. But for some reason it always felt empty, hollow and minimizing, like “get over it-God has something better.”

But this week I thought about C’s words and I thought about this passage and a still small voice whispered to me, “I [the Lord God] have not shortchanged myself any plans or dreams for you.” This plan for infertility is not His “second best” for me. That was a hard pill to swallow because truthfully, it’s easier to think that I’ve been cheated out of something than to consider that this really could be the Ultimate plan and not just a bump in the road or a delay that will one day still turn out the way I hope. Am I ok with this as a final destination? Honestly? I’m trying to be but I don’t think I can say that I am. I won’t say “no” because I don’t reject God’s sovereignty and I am much better than I was.

Considering our journey in this light hasn’t been a fix-all, but it’s definitely been surgery on my broken heart. It’s still broken, but the brokenness feels more purposeful now and I am filled with hope and peace. I’ll repost something that stuck out to me about Lewis’ book again here:

The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness…Suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.

If I’m honest, I’ll say that right now I really can’t envision a “best” that doesn’t include children. That kind of surgery doesn’t make sense to me. I can see us having children one day and testifying about God’s miracles and about His faithfulness to us in this time. And if we never have children, I can still see testifying to His faithfulness, but beyond that I really can’t see how anything could be better. And I’ll admit that I can only pray for the wisdom and courage to one day appreciate and embrace its richness with my whole heart. I’ll be honest and even say that I hope that His best for us doesn’t include permanent barrenness. But if it does, I am at least encouraged cerebrally that in God’s cosmology, it will be best, whether I feel it or not in my heart. Whatever His best is, He has not shortchanged Himself of His dreams and plans for His glory in our lives, and thereby we are not shortchanged either, and have cause to rejoice.

I don’t have any false piety here. I’m still broken hearted and I’m terrified in my heart of hearts that maybe He will say “no, forever” and I’ll have to be ok with that. But right now I’m choosing to believe what my heart has more trouble accepting, that I am ready for “His Best,” whatever it may be. I know I’ll still have my days, weeks or months of grief and I think that’s still ok. But may it never be that my grief robs me of the Joy of the Lord. I want to begin this New Year with a better understanding of His joy and His peace that passes understanding. I pray that for all of us! Today is a day of Hope and Peace for me. My heart is full in a new way. I’m still human and full of my own selfish desires but today Peace comforts all of that.

Blessed are the Barren II

13 Dec

Last week I mentioned that the title of the new Christianity Today’s cover issue was “Blessed are the Barren” and that such a title challenged me. I was thinking about it last night and wondered why the article’s title caught me by surprise, when the same words in scripture never have. And I realized something. In my head, I’ve always translated the passage in scripture to read

Blessed will be the barren.

Blessed will the barren be at some unspecified future time when we are all restored to glory and can fully see the will and power of God. Not right now.

After all, the New Testament passage reads

When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ “Then they will begin TO SAY TO THE MOUNTAINS, ‘FALL ON US,’ AND TO THE HILLS, ‘COVER US.’ “For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:26-31 [emphasis mine]

But if I read that carefully, it says that what is in the future is our acceptance or proclamation of the blessing, not the blessing itself. Perhaps when our eyes our opened with the fullness of Christ’s presence, we will then be able to see and appreciate as he does. But Blessed are the barren.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on infertility lately and one thing I’ve seen repeated more than once is the notion that infertility is a gift or blessing from God. I don’t think I believe that. I think that God challenges us and allows suffering, but I don’t think that I can say that it is God’s will for our bodies to function imperfectly. I think that infertility is the result of a sinful world and it’s one of the many consequences that abound. (Important distinction: infertility is a consequence levied on the world, much like disease, crime, etc, and not a specific punishment for the individuals who suffer from it). In His perfection He cannot thwart the cause and effect relationship of sin in this world so there is no fault in not “saving us” from it, but I cannot concede that He wills this on any of us. Perhaps I shall be proven wrong one day.

But, I do not think that means that He cannot redeem brokenness by working in it. His ability to glorify Himself and lavish His blessings is not limited by our malfunctioning bodies. As we know, His power is perfected in our weakness. Though we’ve walked this journey of infertility almost 4 years, the new developments in the last couple of weeks have really turned my world upside down and lead to a lot of soul-searching. And I have been surprised to discover that God has blessed us in this. My husband is the most wonderful man in the world and while I didn’t think it was possible for me to love him more than I did, we’ve learned so much about each other through this. I’ve also learned so much about the character of God that I never would have learned had He not broken me of my “good girl” rules and the safe piety I always assumed in the name of “respect.” How marvelous is it that in His withholding of parenthood from us, I learn how to be daughter!

Our pastor is one of the dearest men in the world. God has given him a tender, shepherd’s heart. We saw him two days after our dreadful doctor’s appointment and shared a lot of the ugly depths of our emotion with him and received no judgment at all. That Sunday at church, he just offered a hug and his prayers. I thanked him for not trying to “fix us” and he said “that’s not what you need right now. There will be time for that, but not right now” and he encouraged us to just be honest with God in our feelings. I can’t tell you how freeing that was for us! Exploring the depths of my emotion with God has been such a gift for my relationship with Him. I thank God for using PJ to help open that door.

PJ (my nickname for him, short for Pastor J____) has been preaching through Luke during this advent season, which has naturally included the tale of Elisabeth. At the beginning he also taught on Hannah, following another sermon earlier in the fall on her too. I was speaking to him after church last week, razzing him that I think he’s on a mission to bring up all the barren women in the Bible. His response was not one I expected or intended. He confessed a nervousness that what he was teaching might be hurtful or make us uncomfortable. My first response to this is a praise to God that our pastor is not afraid to preach the truth, even if it’s “offensive.” The reality of it is that scripture is scripture, regardless of my personal experience. (However he never uses this truth as an excuse for insensitivity). I was also grateful for his compassion and sensitivity. He may never know how much those few moments of compassion he’s given us in the last couple weeks mean to us. But lastly, I marveled at God as I considered PJs words that the scriptures he’s been teaching through have NOT been traumatic or devastating for me. Somehow I feel a certain kinship with these women, though I know I have no promises (yet?) like they did and my story may not turn out the same. Even just a few weeks ago, I resented Rachel and Hannah and Elisabeth, for having their prayers answered with a “yes!” when we still hear “no” or maybe, “not yet.” But how much God has worked in our hearts in just a short time! Suddenly I find myself devouring passages of scripture that not too long ago, hung heavy around my neck like a painful reminder of what God would not do for me. I take comfort in the fact that these women were dear to God’s own heart, and their pain was not unknown to Him. Nor so is mine, even when my heartache tells me otherwise!

Lest the reader be deceived–I still have my (many!) moments of despair and brokenness. But they no longer feel purposeless. I no longer feel like my heart is broken just so all the little pieces can lie there.

So today I’m thanking God for the blessings he’s given me today, while barren. His blessings and lessons for this trial in our lives are not withheld til some ambiguous future time. Even now, He redeems our brokenness. Yet just like Jesus wept for Lazarus, whose own broken body He knew he would shortly redeem, I know our pain is not far from the heart of God and even in the vast cosmos, we are not forgotten.

Meditations on "Undeserved" or "Unwanted" Pregnancies

11 Dec

A full book review is coming soon (though here’s a hint, it’s positive) as I have almost completed my reading, but I wanted to share a passage from Hannah’s Hope: Seeking God’s Heart In The Midst Of Infertility. The author is Jennifer Saake, founder of Hannah’s Prayer Ministries, which I’ve already shared with you. Most infertile women I know (myself included, and often!) struggle with feelings of a cosmic unfairness that there are so many abused, abandoned, neglected and otherwise unwanted children in this country, born to parents unfit or unwanting of them, while so many of those who would give the world to have and love a child are called to wait. Jennifer writes,

While childlessness is a trial for infertile couples and we consider parenthood a great blessing, for others pregnancy might indeed be the trial that God uses to change their hearts…Just as God may want to use my empty arms to bring me closer to Himself, God may challenge another woman I don’t feel “deserves” a baby with such a gift so that He can ultimately reminder her that He is still God.” (pp 38-39)

I have been meditating on that a lot, especially in light of the Christmas season. In the early weeks of Christmas, I was dreading hearing songs about the infant Christ and seeing a manger brought pain instead of joy. But as I thought about Jennifer’s words, I was challenged to think of Mary. By the world’s standards, she was “undeserving” of any motherhood, much less that of the Christ child! She was a terrified, unwed, poor teen aged mother. And yet God chose her out of His own mercy and grace to be the mother of our Lord and Savior.

How the hushed whispers and the sideways glances of her once friends must have wounded her. How much must her heart have ached at the thought that her beloved Joseph might suspect her of infidelity and put her away? How much she must have worried at the prospect of returning to her parents home with an pregnancy with an unbelievable explanation! She must have spent a least a little time wondering how she and Joseph would provide and care for a child when she was but a child herself! And I can imagine how her heart must have been squeezed a little tighter with each refusal of lodging that fateful Christmas eve!

And yet, how much did God do in her heart.

Mary said unto the Lord,

“My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
“For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
“He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
“He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
Luke 1:46-56

I learn so much for her ability to praise so sincerely in the midst of her adversity. I’m sure the arrival of an unexpected pregnancy turned her world upside down as much as the withholding of pregnancy has mine. And yet she revered God for the “Great things” He had done. How small my faith is in comparison.

I am glad God’s economy does not work like mine does. Only God would choose a penniless child to be the mother of our Lord. And yet His choice was intentional and Mary was humble to His plan for her. Would that I could follow in her footsteps!

I have a long way to go and I still do pray that one day God will see fit to give us a biological child of our own, but in the mean time, would that I had even a fraction of Mary’s faith in the midst of my adversity. I am so thankful for God’s example of her faith and His mercy. Thanks be to God!

And thanks, Jennifer, for your challenging words.

Blessed are the Barren?

3 Dec

The title of this blog is odd, especially given how not blessed I feel when thinking about this particular aspect of my life. If children are a blessing from God, then not having them must be a withholding of that blessing, correct?

Christianity Today’s December 2007 cover features an article called “Blessed are the Barren.” Though my copy hasn’t arrived for me to be able to read the article yet, the title caught me by surprise and challenged my thinking.

While it’s true that children are a blessing from God, it is not true that the barren woman lives in denial of God’s blessing. She may live without that particular blessing, and in no way do I minimize the grief associated with that (anyone who has been around me this week could tell you what a wretched basket case I’ve been as I’ve wallowed in that pain I already know too well); however, my head tells me that our God is a big God (cliche, I know), and His glory is so rich that I needn’t fret about running out of ways to seek it or receive His blessing.

The barren woman is not less blessed-just differently blessed. We understand God’s ministry to the hearts of Hannah, Elisabeth, and Sara in a personal way that our mother sisters will never internalize. God’s ministry to those women reveals some of my favorite, most tender passages in all of scripture.

I’ll be honest and say that this “battle cry” is as much, or even more so a challenge to me and my own thinking as it is a profession of my current thoughts and feelings. I’ll be honest. I’m angry. I grieve. I’m broken hearted and devastated. Holy and unholy thoughts both have escaped my lips this week about God and His providence. So I’m putting out there as a challenge and reminder for the days when I don’t really feel like believing it.

I’ll also be honest in telling you that as recently as yesterday, I wanted nothing to do with God’s will for my life in this regard. Maybe tomorrow I won’t either. Sometimes I struggle with what CS Lewis articulates best:

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.” -A Grief Observed

I hope it’s not the case that I feel this way all the time. But sometimes I do. I wanted my will. And in my heart of hearts, I still want God to change His mind so that natural childbearing is in His will for us. Maybe He will, maybe he won’t. But today, I’m choosing to claim the truth that we are not forsaken. I’m holding on for dear life, knowing in my head that it is right and good, because my heart feels anything but.

If nothing else, we are blessed as we learn this new raw intimacy with God that in my “good Christian girl” role I’ve always been afraid of.